As Madras High School wrapped up its school year on Thursday, one special test was left for a few students: an exam to try to earn their welding certification.

This school year was the first in which Madras High brought back its welding and construction programs after shutting them down seven years ago due to lack of funding. Administration at the school has been thrilled with participation in the classes, enthusiasm students had for them and the difference it made in getting teens excited about coming to school.

Six students in teacher Ben Anderson’s welding class decided to go for their welding certification, and on the last day of school, a representative from Carlson Testing Inc., of Bend, came in the afternoon to oversee the teens welding.

The students — two freshman, two sophomores and two juniors — all took the certification test of their own accord, a $150 investment. The American Welding Society certification the students were seeking followed structural welding code for commercial use, and while many who weld professionally don’t have a certification, it’s an added bonus to a résumé, showing potential employers a certain level of skill, Anderson said. Once students have a certification, they simply must check in to prove they have performed welding within every 180 days to keep it up to date. That could include logging class time spent welding, Anderson said.

Anderson was excited, if not nervous, on Thursday to see his students attempt to tackle the challenge, which included welding two 3-inch steel plates to a bar while the steel was vertical — not an average in-class assignment.

Students will find out if they earned their certifications sometime next week. The certification could open up doors for them in the future, Anderson said.

“It realistically could change the direction of some of their lives,” he said.

Anderson’s own life direction changed some last summer when H.D. Weddel, co-principal at Madras High with Mark Neffendorf, approached him about teaching. Anderson, who himself graduated from Madras High School, had been welding professionally. He was encouraged by the idea of bringing welding back to the high school where he had the opportunity to take such classes years ago.

There has been a state- and nationwide push to revitalize career and technical education, or CTE classes. Part of Measure 98, which Oregonians passed in the November election, puts money toward high school career and technical classes, which have been shown to help raise graduation rates.

Jefferson County School District saw the importance of bringing back classes in welding and construction even before those funds came through though. School districts don’t expect to receive money from the state through Measure 98 until the 2017-18 school year. In addition to career and technical courses, Measure 98 dollars are also meant to go toward Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs, and dropout prevention.

Weddel said just in year one, he has seen a turnaround for students enrolled in career and technical classes. And a high percentage of students at Madras High — about two-thirds — are taking the courses, he estimates.

“What CTE can do for them is give them hope,” Weddel said.

Today’s CTE classes aren’t just what used to be considered “shop,” according to Weddel.

“CTE offers high-end math,” Weddel said.

In career and technical classes including welding and construction, most class periods start with a math warm-up before studies become hands-on, Weddel said.

“A lot of our kids here learn well hands-on,” Weddel said, adding teachers from all disciplines have been supportive of career and technical education coming back. “They see that kids need hands-on work. Not all kids learn by sitting and listening.”

While a subject like English may not be a student’s favorite, she’ll get through it if it means she can attend her career or technical class later in the day, Weddel said.

Because this is the first year bringing back two of the programs, Weddel doesn’t yet have data showing whether the classes have helped decrease the high school’s dropout rate. But attendance was up this school year, from 86 percent average daily attendance in 2015-16 to 91 percent this year, Weddel said.

Weddel said at a school with high poverty like Madras, two key factors can make a big difference in retention rates and student success: their interest in subject matters and relationships with faculty and staff.

“Relationships build trust, and if you trust somebody you’ll be more likely to take a risk,” Weddel said. “Learning something new is taking a risk.”

So those who teach career and technical classes may have a greater ability to build relationships with their students because of their heightened interest, Weddel said.

The Jefferson County School District has budgeted $335,000 in Measure 98 funding from the state for next school year, even though that money is still uncertain, according to Martha Bewley, the district’s chief financial officer. Districts won’t know the amounts of their Measure 98 funding until the state budget is adopted, Bewley said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, kfisicaro@bendbulletin.com

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